DIGITAL TYPE: EXAMINING THE WORK
o k c L Zuz ana i & T os S JU n r sum va
erik van blok land
“I like to experiment with what the computer can do with things that were not possible with other technologies. I like to design letterforms that work well with the computer, both for pragmatic and stylistic reasons.” -Zuzana Licko
“Just as the architects and artists who were in the vanguard of developing digital culture worked on intelligent buildings, Van Rossum and Van Blokland constructed intelligent fonts. Theyreacted to the movements of the mouse as digital letters.” - The LettError Book
Examining the Zuzana Licko Just van Rossum & Erik van Blokland
AL TYPE: work of
The typographic catalogs of
Licko, Just van Rossum, Blokland contain
a variety of
typefaces with a wide range of
styles and a multitude of APPLICATIONS. The work of these three typographers is both united and divided by their
varied and approach, a natural outcome of the three distinct histories, cultures, and to technology that inform the work. , the co-creator, along with husband Rudy VanderLans, of Emigre Magazine and Emigre Fonts, is
a Czechoslovakian immigrant whose passion for typography was sparked by a struggle with the aesthetics of
Born only half a decade later, Just van Rossum and
Erik van Blokland are Dutch type designers whose skill for creating typefaces is matched equally by an enthusiasm and aptitude for computer programming .
The SUCCESS of these three typographers is surely due to, at least in part, their early adoption of introduced in January of 1984 -
a technology so powerful that it
not only allowed for the digital
construction of the designs of Licko, van Rossum,
and van Blokland, but in fact offered such a
of options that the digital format itself
became a basis of inspiration for several new typefaces.
MPUTE R ,
The great quantity of
typefaces created by
Zuzana Licko, Just van Rossum, and Erik van Blokland for their respective type foundries is testament to the wonderful possibilities inherent in an ever-advancing digital world and stand as an inspiration for both the type designers of today, and those of tomorrow, with its yet-to-be defined technological developments. Zuzana Licko was born in 1961 in
POWE Bratislava, the capitol of Slovakia.
At age seven, Licko and her family
emigrated to the United States where, three years later, she had her first experience with a computer, in the
form of a game called â€œSpace Landingâ€?. The daughter of a biomathematician, Licko assisted her father with data processing during the summers and designed her first typeface, a Greek alphabet, for his use. In an interview with David Earls for his book Designing Typefaces, Licko commented that she â€œenjoyed solving puzzles, whether they be math, logic or visual.
that it became a basis
y g o l o n ech
1981 1982 1983
1984 1985 1986 1987 1988
RAPHY Having a maths professor in the family probably
this to a
great degree, which in turn made me
receptive to using the computer as a creative and
In 1981, Licko enrolled at the
University of California at Berkeley, planning to study architecture. After two years, finding the ARCHITECTURE architecture program to be too much like business school, she decided to switch her major to
time period that two
It was during this
in her life occurred: first, she met Rudy VanderLans, her future husband and businesspartner partner, business
a graduate student
of photography at the time.
Secondly, and equally if not more important in terms of her future career as a postmodern typographer, the first Macintosh computer, which Licko refers to as
L TOOL for me”
was unveiled in early 1984, paving the way for Licko and VanderLans’ collaboration on
In 1966, five years after the birth of Zuzana Licko, Just van Rossum was born 800 miles from Bratislava in the Netherlands city of HAARLEM. Though Erik van Blokland was born only a year after, the two did not meet until their enrollment (van Blokland arriving a year after van Rossum) in the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, when their teacher Gerrit Noordzij introduced them. Both young men had, like Zuzana Licko, become immensely interested in the Macintosh computer after its 1984 debut and their first projects together focused on the computer’s programming abilities. After Just van Rossum’s graduation from The Hague in 1988, he was given
a job in Berlin at Erik Spiekermann’s company MetaDesign, where his first project was the completion of the typeface Officina. After his graduation the following year, Erik van Blokland was invited to join MetaDesign as well. Nicknamed
Erik Spiekermann, their friendship solidified through living and working together in Berlin. Additionally, they began to develop a working style, one that led to the creation of the extremely successful business and creative
they have today. In his book
Dutch Type, Jan Middendorp writes, “Then as now, they seldom worked jointly on a single project. After an initial brainstorm session, tasks are allocated and each goes his own way. Yet many concepts are the product of their continuous interaction”. In 1989, van Rossum and van Blokland’s joint efforts,
pr con the
INTERA established under the heading LettError, were put on the map by the inclusion of their experiments with random fonts at the ATypl conference in Paris, garnering them a significant amount of both criticism and praise for their postmodern designs. The first issue of Emigre magazine was published in 1984, before the release of the Macintosh computer. Since Licko and VanderLans had a limited printing budget, their first issue was created entirely with the use of
roduct ntinuous OF THEIR
ACTION typewriter text and Xerox copies.The introduction of the Macintosh computer later on that same year gave Licko access to the software known as FontEditor, giving her the ability to design low-resolution typefaces. In an interview with Rudy VanderLans in Emigre 15, Licko talks about the unique appeal of low-res fonts. â€œEver since I was first introduced to graphic design, I heard everybody say how bad digital type looked and how it was impossible to make it look any better. This really
me...So I saw that there was
THERE WAS SOMETHING unexplored
there and I wanted to try my own
at it...I thought that anything I would do would be better than what was out there.” Licko’s first three creations, Emperor, Oakland, and Emigre were proof that her suspicions were correct; she
succeeded in creating beautiful, legible typefaces despite the constraints of
Interestingly, Licko credits the somewhat frustrating
the early technology with a large part of her success, citing in her and VanderLans’ book, EMIGRE: GRAPHIC DESIGN INTO THE DIGITAL REALM, her
of “anything that is
tremendously restrictive...if I get too many choices I become over overwhelmed”. whelmed
Similar to Zuzana Licko’s work, the typefaces of
Just van Rossum and Erik van Blockland’s LettError type foundry are centrally informed by the technology that created them. Van Rossum and van Blokland’s first typeface, Beowolf, is the result of a ‘hack’ to PostScript technology.
PostScript outlines are created through a series of computer COMMANDS: lineto, curveto, etc. By inserting a new command, van Rossum and van Blokland created a
‘randomfont’ which outputs slightly
different character outlines each time it is printed. When viewed
on the screen, the characters that comprise Beowolf appear uniform; it is only when sent to the printer that the various modifications are made, creating a slightly different output each time. Beowolf’s distorted and unpredictable nature may not make it commonplace, but its groundbreaking conceptual implications grant it a unique place in typographic history.
In an interview with Emily King of Frieze magazine, Erik van Blokland commented, “For a short while, maybe 300 years, there was a system that meant letters had to be the same. A mechanical system of producing type meant that there was one master form and you made copies of that; it was all very logical. That is why all the ‘A’s are the same and all of the ‘B’s are the same. We have grown up expecting that to happen, but it is the result of a mechanical process, not for any reason of understanding or
Released in 1990 by FontShop, Beowolf helped establish the LettError type foundry, which followed up its release with two other bold and
innovative typefaces whose conception centered
NEW on the use of technology: Kosmik and Twin.
With Kosmik, Erik van Blokland experimented with a new digital tool – the
A ‘flipperfont’ utilizes a program developed by van Blokland to have the printer output one of variety of different options for each character. Twin, an even more technologically ambitious typeface, uses this same principle of
to create a typeface that is
affected by user input. At its debut during the 2003 TypeCon conference, LettError had Twin react to audience shouts, creating a typeface that is truly interactive.
shering IN A
ERA Through an interest in type design and an imaginative exploration of the possibilities and limits inherent to new technology, Licko, van Rossum, and van Blokland have ushered in an new era of typography. Their willingness to be
to new ideas and new perceptions
has led us into the age of postmodern typography, where one can not only produce elegant, high-resolution designs but create a typeface so
that it upends our
view of traditional typography.
Designed by KATHERINE CARBERRY
Class TYPOGRAPHY III
Typefaces MATRIX SCRIPT EMPEROR EIGHT CITIZEN TRIXIE DYNAMOE ADVERT ROUGH
Works Cited BIL’AK, PETER. “TYPOTHEQUE: LETTERROR, DESIGNERS AND PROGRAMMERS BY PETER BIL’AK.” TYPOTHEQUE. COM. TYPOTHEQUE, N.D. WEB. 25 OCT. 2010. EARLS, DAVID. DESIGNING TYPEFACES. EAST SUSSEX: ROTOVISION SA, 2002. KING, EMILY. “LETTERROR.” FRIEZE MAGAZINE. MARCH-APRIL 1995: 21. LICKO, ZUZANA AND RUDY VANDERLANS. EMIGRE: GRAPHIC DESIGN INTO THE DIGITAL REALM. NEW YORK: BYRON PREISS VISUAL PUBLICATIONS, INC., 1993. MIDDENDORP, JAN. DUTCH TYPE. ROTTERDAM: 010 PUBLISHERS, 2004. RICHARDSON, MARGARET. “RANDOM TWINS: JUST VAN ROSSUM AND ERIK VAN BLOKLAND REVEAL ALL IN LETTERROR.” FONTSHOP.COM. FONTSHOP, N.D. WEB. 25 OCT. 2010. RUBINSTEIN, RHONDA. “ZUZANA LICKO.” EYE MAGAZINE. SPRING 2002: 43.